When the citizens of Washington voted to legalize marijuana, it was a mandate against the status quo – street deals, organized crime, money laundering. Even for those of us who don’t use cannabis, there is every reason to find new ways to control a drug which has led to so many violent altercations involving home grown operations.
That point is best illustrated in the story of one Jeremy Capodanno, a Puyallup area man recently convicted in federal court of unlawful manufacturing of narcotics and firearms violations (Adam Lynn, TNT 1/31).
Capodanno’s conviction on Friday arose from a December 2012 incident when two armed men broke into the marijuana grow operation in his garage. He shot and killed both men, an action for which he was not charged, but on Friday Capodanno was sentenced to seven years in prison because, the judge stated, his illegal activities directly led to the fatal incident.
There is a lesson here, if the other Washington is willing to listen.
Currently, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is working diligently to put together a system that will oversee the manufacture and sale of legalized marijuana. Over time and if done properly, that endeavor should change the entire growing and distributing process. At the risk of being naive, there is hope that Washington’s efforts might remove pot from the realm of clandestine drug transactions.
That is a worthy goal, yet state administrators tackling this issue face serious challenges. These include selecting legitimate businesses to produce and sell cannabis products, appeasing communities near these locations, handling contrary politicians, keeping organized crime out of the process and taking enforcement against those who stubbornly refuse to play by the new rules.
With respect to marijuana, the federal government is still fighting the war on drugs as if it were winnable. Billions of dollars in enforcement has only succeeded in luring drug trafficking networks into the lucrative business and made the streets less safe.
To be fair, it took our state some time to decide that marijuana’s status quo was too costly, too dangerous and, in some respects, hypocritical. Along the way we adopted half-measures, including allowing a handful of medical marijuana patients to grow a limited number of pot plants in their home. This amazingly shortsighted idea led to a wave of home invasion robberies not unlike the one that ended so tragically in Jeremy Capodanno’s garage.
Voters in Washington State and Colorado have decided that enforcing marijuana laws is simply not worth the effort. Moreover, citizens of these two states decided independently that enforcing arcane laws that only benefit drug networks is a dumb idea and that, instead, taxpayers would rather have their local, state and, yes, federal law enforcement dollars spent keeping the public safe.
To its credit, the federal government seems willing to wait and see how the Liquor Control Board fares in its daunting task. We should all cross our fingers that our state gets it right.
If not, the marijuana industry will continue to be a garage business run by men like Jeremy Capodanno, and the only dividends will be incarceration and bloodshed.